BASKETBALL

Bucknell 65, Arizona 54: Not Interested Tourney

Loss in LA last week lingers as Cats' season ends with loss to Bison
2012-03-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:48:03Z Bucknell 65, Arizona 54: Not Interested TourneyBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Officially, the Arizona Wildcats' bumpy basketball season came to a quiet halt Wednesday in a forgettable 65-54 National Invitation Tournament loss to eighth-seeded Bucknell at McKale Center.

But, really, you could say the Wildcats' season pretty much ended March 4, when their NCAA tournament at-large hopes evaporated in a shocking loss at struggling ASU.

Or you could say it all ended last Saturday, when the Wildcats lost 53-51 to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament final, giving up a shot at an automatic NCAA tournament berth to a sixth-seeded team playing its fourth game in four days.

However you figure it, by the time they showed up to host Bucknell on Wednesday, the Wildcats were already all but done.

Instead of spending the past few days looking ahead to the NIT, and a possible ride to New York if they reached the NIT semifinals, the Wildcats couldn't help but look back to Los Angeles. So they became the first No. 1 NIT team to lose in the first round since ASU did so to Jacksonville in 2010.

"I think we left a lot in L.A.," guard Kyle Fogg said. "It's tough coming back from such a loss like that. I know I'm still kind of numb. That loss still hurts."

Fogg was among several UA players who didn't appear themselves Wednesday. While he had just five points on 2-for-5 shooting, and a late turnover that helped Bucknell seal the victory, the team's best shooter, Brendon Lavender, was 0 for 5 from three-point range, and freshman Nick Johnson was 1 of 7 from the field.

Solomon Hill led the Wildcats with his 13th and final double-double of the season (17 points, 10 rebounds), but even post-mate Jesse Perry found himself somewhat off in a 14-point, four-rebound effort.

He couldn't help it, either.

"Losing to a team like Colorado to go to the NCAA tournament, it affects you mentally," Perry said. "It messes up your mind. You almost have to be mentally strong to get ready for the NIT. We didn't do that."

Instead, this is what the Wildcats did: They fell behind by six to the Patriot League champions from Pennsylvania in the first half, shot only 32 percent in the second half and allowed Bucknell to make 7 of 15 three-pointers.

In what can often be viewed as a barometer of intensity, the rebounding total was Bucknell 36, Arizona 28.

So while NBA prospect Mike Muscala led the Bison with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Bucknell also had 4-of-7 three-point shooting from reserve guard Bryson Johnson, the Wildcats were talking about their effort more than anything Bucknell did.

"Their big guy was great," Hill said. "But he had 30 in their last game, and they lost (in the Patriot League tournament final) so you can't really say it was some things they did. They came out (to play) tonight. As a team we really didn't.

"We didn't hit some shots we should have. They made the hustle plays and that's something we can control. You've got to go out there as a team and hustle."

In some respects, UA coach Sean Miller may have seen it coming. He said Monday he wasn't sure how his players would respond to playing in the NIT after coming so close to the NCAA tournament - and experiencing the high of an Elite Eight appearance last season.

Shaking that Colorado loss off became even tougher, he indicated, when forces outside his control cast a downbeat atmosphere into his locker room.

"That's the hard part about being in the NIT," Miller said. "It's a great tournament, and we respected it a great deal and appreciate the opportunity to play in tonight's game. But when you read an article, if you're a member of our team, there's just incredible disappointment.

"Coming off the Pac-12 tournament, the way we lost - to be there with the ball (at the end). How hard those three games in three days were, and that was on the heels of a tough loss at Arizona State and a great climb through the month of February. I don't know if we were completely over that today."

Hill agreed, and he couldn't stand it.

Only three UA players exceeded their season averages in points and rebounds Wednesday - Hill, guard Jordin Mayes and forward Angelo Chol.

The way Hill spoke, everyone should have. Hill said it was "terrible" that UA lost when the three other Pac-12 teams won their first-round NIT games. The Wildcats instead finished their season at 23-12, while Bucknell improved to 25-9 and moved to a second-round game against Nevada.

"We've listened too much to the outside world," Hill said. "Guys didn't understand that we had another chance to play in front of our home crowd, to play again with each other one more time, and get another win even if it wasn't the tournament.

"But there were outside sources. People in their ear who got to them. Great teams have played in this, and once in a while you get in the NIT. Things happen, and you need to get over it."

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